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THEATER Boneyard Prayer
2008-04-09

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Playwright: Conceived by Frank Maugeri,

written in collaboration with Seth Bockley

At: Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard

Phone: 312-850-8440; $15, $35

Runs through: May 11

BY CATEY SULLIVAN

There's a gorgeous melancholy to Redmoon Theater's Boneyard Prayer, as well as a timbre as rich and sorrowful as the loam over an ancient grave. Conceived and directed by Frank Maugeri, the piece taps into the grief of the profound and the eternal while telling a story of exquisite specificity that echoes into the universal.

Boneyard Prayer is as terrifying as it is beautiful in its depiction of the supreme fallibility of human beings. Though lilting, haunting music by Charles Kim and a story by Maugeri written in collaboration with Seth Bockley, the tumble from happiness and security to lost, living ghost is revealed as a spiral made up of the tiniest steps, each one infinitely easy to take. In the best of times, the Depression-era hobos and lonesome tramps of Boneyard Prayer could create a powerful story. Today, as thousands lose their homes to predatory lenders and the most basic health insurance is only a dream for millions, Redmoon's fable is little less than galvanizing.

The dichotomy between the harrowing journey of Martin and Alice from their exuberant, turn-of-the-century dance-hall romance to soul-crushed pennilessness in 1938 and the sheer beauty of the storytelling is hypnotic. Co-director Tracy Otwell's set design incorporates 641 pounds of dirt ( we'll take their word for the weight ) , a literal representation of dust to dust. As the story unspools, this sepia graveyard world of ashes and grit morphs into a shadowscape of freight cars, tenement apartments, third-tier vaudeville stages and the vast, cold and frightening terrain of the homeless.

The mesmerizing fable of Alice and Martin begins with a musical invocation from Alice as she cradles an infant in a coffin-sized square of light. 'Someday, we're all gonna go back home,' intones Kasey Foster's Alice, and it's with a voice that could draw tears from statues. The baby is dead, and as she buries it in a moment both shocking and gentle, the stage opens up into a world of hard labor and harder drinking.

With comic shadings slyly reverberating from Waiting for Godot, we meet Martin ( Alex Balestrieri, voice colored by both defiance and desperation ) , the husband who left Alice 23 years earlier in a tragic, alcoholic haze. Like some deeply damaged Odysseus, he's finally come home.

A ragtag ensemble of gravediggers tells the redemptive tale of Martin and Alice in song and by manipulating a pair of eerily expressive puppets. Jesse Mooney-Bullock's weathered, wooden Alice and Martin—each hand-carved from single slabs of wood—are simply extraordinary, their lined, exhausted faces summoning the spirit of the late, great Dorothea Lange's iconic photos documenting the Depression.

Irreparable loss and sublime, divine forgiveness—both are embedded in the brutal poetry of Boneyard Prayer, which surely stands as one of Redmoon's finest achievements.


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